The 2015 CMA Awards have a serious "Girl Crush" on Little Big Town.
The heartsick single — a sleeper success on country radio this year —- was the big winner out of the gate at this year's telecast. In the first half of the show, the tune picked up the awards for single of the year and song of the year despite it being, as the band described it onstage, a "6/8 ballad about jealousy and heartbreak."
The band's performance of it was appropriately stark, with Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman trading harmonies about loneliness and envy edging into obsession. But it was the most serious moment of a lively telecast that showcased how its classic songwriterly vantage points can allow for new twists.
Hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood kicked off the show with a "Star Wars" skit that played to their mutual-cornball charisma. They cracked gently about Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert's split and worked in gentle jibes at Donald Trump and Josh Duggar.
William Shatner's daffy, profane cameo as he performed a bit of "Girl Crush" in a stormtrooper suit called the shot of the night, however. Little Big Town would soon prove to be a Death Star-sized juggernaut.
Early collaborations between Hank Williams Jr. and Eric Church, and John Mellencamp and Keith Urban drew through-lines between classic rock and modern Nashville. Chris Stapleton, the velvet-voiced, formidably bearded, picked up the award for new artist and had a strong duet with Justin Timberlake that took his hit "Tennessee Whiskey" into Timberlake's "Drink You Away." Both are soul-inspired vocalists, and the crisp horns and virtuosic vocal runs provided the biggest fireworks of night.
But the crowd was perhaps most glad to see Sam Hunt, the barnstorming singer whose sing-speak style and pop-fluent sensitivity earn frequent Drake comparisons. His hit "Take Your Time" didn't land him any of the night's early awards, but it did have a spark of enthusiasm and crossover potential the genre hasn't seen since Taylor Swift.
But the night's most charming early moment came when Paisley brought the urn out with the ashes of Little Jimmy Dickens, the diminutive Grand Ole Opry star whose showmanship had become a CMA staple. Dickens died in January, but when Paisley opened his urn to produce another, much tinier urn, he was once again — perhaps for the last time — the star of the CMAs.
Follow @AugustBrown for breaking music news.